The vandal’s key

In the 4th and 5th centuries, a Germanic tribe called Vandals invaded France and Spain, then moved on to north Africa. These guys trashed Rome in 455, defacing and destroying art works and public buildings. Scholars tell us that the Vandal king Gaiseric and his son persecuted Christians in horrible and inhuman ways. No one was as destructive as Vandals.
We lower-cased the “v” and added the word in our vocabulary in 1794, when Henri Grégoire, bishop of Blois, coined the word <em>vandalism</em> in response to the destruction of artwork following the French Revolution. Today we define a vandal as anyone who willfully and maliciously destroys the property of others.
This brings me to our car, a Prius we affectionately call Prunellie. She’s a wonderful car, our second Prius. Betsy and I are loyal fans of Carolina and its colors of light blue and white, but we love Prunellie’s rich dark blue exterior. Handsome. But it invites vandals. Certain people like to mar its surface by scratching it with the sharp edge of a key. Our Prunellie first was keyed in the parking lot of a big box store in neighboring Durham. A long, undulating white line running nearly the length of the car greeted me when I returned to the car with my purchases.
What does one do at this point? A new paint job is far too expensive, overkill, really, but the ugly slash remains. Touch-up paint purchased from the Toyota dealer does the trick, but it takes a good eye and steady hand to make a neat job of it, and at my age, I can’t claim either.
Then last week, another ugly slash appeared high along a portion of the passenger’s side, terminating in a slice in the hard plastic tail light assembly. This particular act of vandalism took place in the highly visible front row of the parking lot of the friendly senior center a few blocks from our home, while I was inside, performing in a musical show. Was my singing that bad?
Not all vandalism is malicious, I would argue. When I was a kid, we liked to scrawl on our neighbors’ car windows with the edge of a bar of soap on Halloween. We knew that warm water and a little elbow grease was all that one would need to erase our childish acts of vandalism.
But to key a car in this way seems malicious to me. I wonder who would think that it’s OK to do this to someone else’s property. I wonder who would feel comfortable doing this, and I wonder why.

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